By Lindsey Anuzis, MA, LCMHCA, NCC, RBT ~ Child and Family Development
We are living in a time where everything as we know it is becoming electronic or digital – workout equipment, vacuums, cars, our methods of communication, jobs, even education for some! While digital technology does have its benefits, too much screen time (phones, iPads, computers, and tv) can have negative implications on children and adolescent’s mental health!
Research gathered from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Psychology Today, and ChildMind.org found that the average teen spends about nine hours a day on a screen. That is equivalent to a full-time job! Studies have found that spending two hours a day or more on social media can contribute to anxiety and unhappiness in teens. Additionally, 71% of teens had admitted to hiding on-line activities from their parents. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing something illegal, but it is wise for parents to monitor their children’s social media activity. Furthermore, about half of all the teens in the study stated they were addicted to their cell phone, and approximately 66% of parents felt their teens spent too much time on their phones.
Some signs indicative of your child having too much screen time include withdrawal from social interactions, increased levels of anxiety and stress, feeling overwhelmed by normal routines, decreased academic performance and avoidance of responsibility. So you may be wondering what you can do? A general rule is to limit screen time at home to 60-90 minutes per day. If this is a change for your child or teenager, talk with them about it and slowly implement changes. Depending on your child’s age, you have some options for managing screen use!
Children this young should not have any screen time with the exception of maybe video chatting loved ones (with your assistance).
Preschool age kids:
– Preschoolers should have no more than one hour of screen time per day- while it may be tempting to utilize TV /iPad as a way to give yourself a break, there are other options! This is a crucial time for your kids to develop their play and social skills! Traditional toys, such as cause and effect toys can be just as valuable, as well as educational!
– When they do have screen time, engage, play, and interact with them! Kids learn best by watching you – this is also a great time to reinforce things they have already learned!
School age kids:
– Create a schedule, identifying when screen time is appropriate, and when it can be expected (i.e. as a break after school before starting homework). This will help to manage expectations and provide structure.
– Model healthy screen use – be mindful of any potential binge-watching or obsessive social media scrolling habits you may have!
– Do your research on apps for your kids. Just because they are labeled as “educational” does not mean they are of high quality.
– Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Co-watch, co-play, or co-engage with your children when they are using screens. You can comment on things shown in the media that do and don’t align with your values and encourage your children to watch things more actively.
– Continue to utilize the schedule, and family media contract, and adapt them to maturity levels of your kids.
– If your kid has a cell phone, explain to them that texting can be tricky. It is easy for people to misinterpret conversations when they are hearing the tone of your voice or seeing your facial expressions and body language. Refrain from going through their texts unless you have a valid reason to be concerned. This can lead to the development of trust issues, and can even encourage kids to start hiding things from you.
– Discuss internet safety with your kids- who should and should not be their “friends”, and what appropriate behavior on the internet looks like.
– You may be tempted to “friend” your child on social media as means to monitor their use, however, this can come off as smothering. Look for other ways to monitor their use, or limit their screen time with things like screen use timers for certain apps (available for Facebook and Instagram).
– Continue to implement and update the schedule, and contract in addition to enforcing consequences.
– Continue to discuss internet safety with your kids.
– Show them how to expand their screen and internet use for practical things such as researching a college, or finding a job etc.
– Require them to “unplug” from technology at least an hour before bed to ensure better quality of sleep and reduce impact of blue light on their eyes and brain.
With our world becoming more digitally expansive by the day, managing screen time for your kids can be challenging. The biggest take away is to manage your kid’s expectations of what screen time looks like. Avoid making screens rewards or consequences for behavior. Screens are highly preferred and overvalued. Allowing screen time to be contingent on behavior voids the structure you have created through the schedule and family contract.
Lindsey Anuzis, MA, LCMHCA, NCC, RBT is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate as well as a Registered Behavior Technician at the Midtown and Pineville locations of Child & Family Development. Lindsey obtained her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from High Point University in High Point, NC and her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. She provides ongoing therapy services to preschoolers through young adults to address concerns related to mood, behavior, and social skills. Her areas of clinical interest include stress and coping skills, life transitions, grief and loss, self-esteem, identity concerns, bullying and relationship issues, wellness counseling with a mind body emphasis and trauma. Contact us to schedule an intake appointment with Lindsey today.
Child & Family Development
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Charlotte, NC 28134